synapse.

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synapsebowl

The point at which electrical signals move from one nerve cell to another.

Origin: New Latin synapsis, from Greek synapten “to fasten together”

Word credit to Chis Brake of the eponymous entertainment talk radio show and podcast streaming from Indianapolis http://chrisbrakeshow.com/

Going Old School: Sazerac with an Absinthe sidecar

Going Old School: Sazerac with an Absinthe sidecar

My first flirtation with technology, in the way of many a tumultuous love affair, an experiment born out of boredom. My buddy M, the instigator, leaving a note in my locker, the subsequent successful attempt to access the computer lab “mainframe”, copy M’s program, tweak, submit as my computing assignment, utilize the remainder of my last period class to crank out a second English Lit paper for M to riff off of, or read a novel for extra credit.

“Hacker” not yet in our lexicon, “hack” a term for the talentless, people who produced low-quality work or quit because they lacked the right stuff.

We embarked on this test-turned-habit a few weeks into our senior year, after our basic BASIC instruction resulted in dot-matrix printouts of numerical patterns: boxes, circles, ghosts. It appeared we would go no further than to make not-so-pretty pictures, although when spring hit, just shy of graduation, we learned to create computations, write programs that yielded actual mathematical results, which hinted at some powerful, if not exactly profound, alchemy.

toby'smechanicmagic

Mechanics behind the Magic: Toby’s Estate Coffee

The buddy system M and I developed, a trade of access to his programming for access to my writing — which may have been frowned upon had school administrators caught wind — was in today’s business parlance a savvy practice of “maximizing our resources” or “leveraging our respective core strengths”. We were ahead of our time. We were living the future.

In retrospect, I might have chosen more wisely, become the lead technologist, made him the English Lit guru. Had I known what those 1s and 0s would wreak. But I was story-obsessed, bewitched by this computing backdoor, a function that bent time and space, allowed me to escape classroom confines, explore the landscape of a novel, return to reality as the bell rang, a weekday Tesseract.

I gleefully dove down literary wormholes conjured by authors, the worlds conjured by coders still decades in the future, the future which is now our society’s past, our ever-iterating present. It was beyond my ken to envision worlds erected out of numbers instead of letters, fabricated by engineers and profiteers.

Serious coffee. Serious edit.

Serious coffee. Serious edit.

Flash forward, Bay Area, early 1990s, the emerging tech wave cresting-to-boom, me at a magazine start-up covering all that emerged from Apple’s campus on 1 Infinite Loop. We styled ourselves mavericks, us Macintosh advocates, the stylish underdogs in the Great PC Wars. Our operating system was pure, no glitchy underlying DOS, a software language that allowed us to focus on what we were computing, not our computer.

Although we were design-smug about our hardware, too.

Boilermaker Round Two

Boilermaker: Round Two

Compute we did, spreadsheets and graphs and graphics that would appear crude today but at the time were a source of pride. We traded tech tips — keystroke shortcuts, tricks to unlock hidden software Easter Eggs — the talk of tech still tech itself, even as the hedonism of the first IPO era loomed and “tech tips” became synonymous with Wall Street trades.

Casual conversations over fruity Cabernets, hoppy IPAs sparked sideline projects, engineering equivalents of garage bands. Even before the commercial internet, we were plugged in, wired, connected. Our rarified air crackled with possibility, all possibilities, radiating out from our Bay Area epicenter. We were a pulsing, pulsating fractal stretching ever outward, folding ever inward, infinite.

Boilermaker has hacked the craft cocktail scene, how else to explain their seriously top-shelf concoctions served with seriously unpretentious flare? Bonus points to this East Village bar for boasting an ENTIRE MENU of Boilermakers and extending their oh so easily rationalized as the-more-you-drink-the-more-you-save Happy Hour specials ’til 8pm.

All that Happy Hour writing required some serious next-day editing, so I settled into a widow seat at Toby’s Estate, the Brooklyn-based roaster who has (thankfully!) opened a Manhattan outpost in the West Village.

synapse

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palaver.

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Our WordBowl Word of the Day courtesy of punster Anna Noelle Rockwell, who’s passion for all things culinary and anthropological fuels her provocative art.

Palaver: noun

(1) Idle chatter (2) Talk intended to charm or beguile (3) A parlay between European explorers and representatives of local populations

 

French 75 at Cherche Midi

French 75 at Cherche Midi

Kim Jong Il was “testing” nuclear bombs in the Sea of Japan during my inaugural trip to Tokyo for our company’s global executive summit, a disgruntled employee pressed into service as translator at — but not on — my side.

Ohayo gozaimasu. Watashi wa genki desu.

I was practiced in the corporate meetings rituals, the hierarchy of greetings, the presentation of gifts, ceremonial business card exchanges. Beyond these protocols, English dominated.

Hai! Hai! Hai! Hai! 

Be-suited Bobbleheads, ring-around-a conference table, nodding in unison, my translator assuring me all agreed — to my entire presentation? — Hai! Hai! Crucial, the distinctions between “translator” and “interpreter”: a literal translation of Japanese “hai” equates to an English “yes”, but a more accurate interpretation would be “I hear you.” Or, “I acknowledge you spoke words.”

What a difference inference makes.

Arigatou.

I had jumped at my company’s subsidized language benefit, thrust myself into a challenge in which there was no possibility of bullshitting my way to success. Fantasies of Murakami literary discussions, debates over Miyazaki’s animation adventure-fables, danced in my head, my high school French failures notwithstanding.

seasonal barview

Cherche Midi seasonal barview

Sumimasen.

Each week I scrabbled through the onslaught of Kanji and Katakana characters, wrapped my head around the concept of object-dependent counting systems, but the business of business intervened, last minute travel to far-flung places for momentarily monumental meetings rendered inconsequential in the inevitable reorg du jour. Determined to defy defeat — despite missing the crucial class on number nomenclatures for “thin flat things” and “cylindrical items” — I fired e.mails to my manga-obsessed, just-shy-of-fluent American assistant, pleas for pithy jokes I doggedly memorized on the return flight, tossed these presumably off-the-cuff bon mots when sensei called upon me, flipping frantic through course book, class notes to score an answer to the original question as the class tittered.

Bluffing, the language in which I was most fluent.

Manhattan reflections

Manhattan reflections

Dou itashi mashite.

Mandatory company dinner, requisite pre-dinner sake-beer-scotch, the filler chatter never idle, the games both literal — variations on rock-paper-scissors involving mental math — and figurative commenced. As we moved through Sochu cocktails — You must try! Hai! Hai! — to whiskey, which was well on it’s way to becoming an indigenous Japanese spirit, my colleagues progressed from advancing their individual professional interests to pressing me to defend the American decision to redeploy to Iraq the aircraft carriers historically harbored in Japan.

I was prepared to present U.S. entertainment market opportunities, educate my colleagues on the western predilection for three-act narrative structure. While not unaccustomed to contemplating the tangible implications of an American President’s rhetoric — Marine brothers, one bombing Basara, another training new civilian recruits — I was ill-equipped to navigate the nuances of post-WWII politics, the resentments of a modern generation attempting to reconcile their reverence for their elders with their aspirational American dreams. Or their fears of the neighborhood bully mashing a preparatory fist into meaty palm.

Happy Bones bone-afied coffee

bone-afied coffee

My colleagues repaired to Roppongi for karaoke and hostess clubs. I returned to my labyrinth of a hotel which would one day be immortalized in Lost in Translation, flipped the wall-sized television to the sole English-language channel.

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove filled the room.

Morning, gathered around the lobby vending machines, grabbing hot cans of cappuccino, we bleary-eyed, still polite, somewhat less optimistic colleagues again attempting small talk. Their English so much more than my Japanese, still, we had too limited a vocabulary in common, our knowledge too cursory to parse essential nuances. We could understand a word, but not the meaning.

Eagle-eyed WordBowl readers may recall a horse drawing of Anna’s was featured in a previous WordBowl story CONTINUITY  (for more of Anna’s equestrian art, visit here Esty shop HERE). In honor of Anna Noelle Rockwell’s signature cocktail of choice, this piece was initially hand-scribbled with a French 75 at Cherche Midi (Soho). Editing took place at Happy Bones, a postage-sized coffee shop I stumbled upon while urban hiking through downtown Manhattan.

Do YOU have a word for WordBowl? Use the handy form below. Looking forward to your word!

cattywhampus.

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cattywhampus

Delighted Clara’s cattywhampus is today’s WordBowl winner, as she has submitted several words, all of which I looked forward to writing, but this one especially because cattywhampus — slang, meaning “in disarray or disorder, askew, awry” — is so much fun to say out loud. Go ahead, try it. 

DearIrv2big

Hemingway Daiquiri at Dear Irving

The plan: hop a train to the city, squeeze in all the summer fun I had missed — afternoon aperitifs, outdoor music, late nite al fresco suppers — into the Labor Day holiday weekend. Close out the summer of my discontent in grand style with great friends, return to full-throttle, full-focus work.

This was a revised plan, amended plan, a variation on the Career-as-Priority-One Plan.

Plan B. Or perhaps Plan C-verging-on-D.

The original Life Plan 3.0: relocate to Boston for the Dream Job, commit to a Manhattan-less life. Commit to a schedule of monthly trade shows, UK marketing summits, Hollywood development meetings, triangulating between Los Angeles, Boston, London. But this plan did not allow for a mugging, maiming, or a myriad of therapies both physical and mental, medical mandates to which my work and I had to comply.

Physically unable to drive, medically forbidden to fly, NYC tantalizingly train-accessible.

cityofsaints

contemplating the plan for this WordBowl piece

After all the surgical procedures, hospitals, police stations, physical therapy rooms pretending to pass for gyms, psych offices kitted out in décor so tasteful, unobtrusive as to shout their intentions, a restorative weekend. A real weekend, the kind of weekend enjoyed by people who actually avail themselves of Summer Fridays, people who are friends with their neighbors, convivial with colleagues, networked with a powerful array of peers. People who have not been breached. The kind I, too, once reveled in. Then back into the fray, the incompatible time zones, the avalanche of demands, the opportunities to mitigate distinctly non-physical crisis, score successes. The stuff of which a career is made.

Note the plan, the revised plan, the original plan, all the plans, did not involve romance.

You have seen enough romantic comedies to know a cinematic meet-cute happens when least expected. Post-theater wine in a boite renowned for flattering lighting, my friend and I deep in conversation. Him, also out with a friend, amidst vigorous debate, slugging their overflowing Manhattans. My sling-shod arm a conversational ice-breaker.

The world went Kodachrome. Sounds — clattering of barware, swoosh of napkin, shrieks from neighboring knots of revelers — syncopated, symphonized. Time snapped, air crackled, words popped.

Anecdotes brandished like sparklers, designed to delight. Flares of recognition. Really? Me too!

A Manhattan in Manhattan

A Manhattan in Manhattan

The accidental touch while leaning in to raise a glass, whisper an aside, fission, what might be, a thrill yet fulfilled. Too new for pet names, “honey” or “sweetie pie”, we exhaled the other’s name like an invocation, a promise.

We roamed the city, claimed it as our own.

Strolling through Central Park, fall in the air, summer in the light, that one delicious day we New Yorkers hold in our hearts, extol to non-natives as the glory of living in this chaotic, congested, cash-burning city. Golden Hour, gothic Gotham stretching skyward, sun heavy Hudson-side, pond sparkling, leaves burnished brilliant. A breeze stirred, lifted the grounded leaves, brushed their not-yet-fallen comrades from their branches, gold and copper glittering, swirling around us, like a shaken snow globe, our entwined selves at the center.

Self-styled cynicism swept away, along with all of my carefully constructed plans, in one miraculous moment.

Time for a new plan.

What could be more marvelous than writing about Manhattan with a proper Manhattan? The cocktail wizards at Dear Irving whipped up a classic, and as an encore, served up a Hemingway Daiquiri. Literary cocktail deliciousness, and the setting evokes both bygone eras and contemporary glamor. Plus, their logo is handwritten, stylistically and philosophically an ideal spot for WordBowl scribbling. 

After such classic cocktails, editing required serious caffeinated fuel, which I found at the Manhattan outpost of Brooklyn-based City of Saints Coffee Roasters. 

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σύμπαν

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Greek

After an unanticipated summer semi-hiatus, we return to our regularly scheduled WordBowl story programming with a high-concept Greek term — and our first WordBowl to be written in a city other than NYC — which literally translates as:

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 8.47.51 AM

But a more accurate interpretation —courtesy of Dancer*Dreamer*Daredevil Dimitra D. — refers to the “something beyond” our universe (and, perhaps, our understanding)

sazerac

Birthplace of a beauty: The Sazerac Bar

Berkeley Hills, mid-1990s, Bay Area barreling towards the end of a century, me hurtling towards thirty. “Start up” not yet a noun, “IPO” not yet a business plan, e.mail addresses more perceived company perk than assumption. First hints of our mobile future, Internet connections still tethered to a physical location, we roadwarrior vanguard hauling laptops, modems the size of suitcases, weighty with import.

A couple-three years into my technology magazine publishing career, straddling what would soon become Old Media and New Media, I sat on the deck of the home I rented from a film producer friend awaiting the ideal real estate conditions to sell, sipped Bonny Doon Cigare Volant from a proper wine glass, looked out at a view framed by redwoods, Bay Bridge traffic twinkling, San Francisco a shiny toy for the taking. A family of deer frolicking amongst the unkempt foliage, me amidst the detritus of an impromptu dinner party arranged between giddy colleagues via our new walkie-talkie Nextel company phones. I raised my glass, a solo toast.

Chicory coffee, French Quarter

Chicory coffee, French Quarter

As a young girl, I went along with the usual group imaginary play: stuffed animal hospital, school, war. I tended to eschew playing “house” as my real life family —omnipresent babies squawking and parents battling against, settling into, an armistice of compromised dreams — disabused me of any aspirational notions. Alone, my “let’s pretend” scenario an amalgamation cobbled from memories of our once-upon-a-time nomadic baseball years, Disney musicals, whatever book I most recently devoured, my parents beloved 1930’s screwball comedies and 1940’s noirs. My dreams in black and white, witty women, dapper men, pristine apartments, balconies with sweeping vistas, cocktail parties with friends who performed on Broadway or wrote for newspapers, jobs I equated with the Big City, before “career” entered my consciousness. An elegant world far, far away from our insular Southern town where kids grew up marry their kindergarten classmates, leave their parental home for another in the same or neighboring neighborhood, content with the known.

In my scenario, I would tesseract at will.

It had not occurred to me to factor love into the equation — another story, folks, another time — I instead romanticized career, compatriots. “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

I discovered the working world — despite rush-to-publication highs, goal achievement bragging rights — was populated by the mundane, spreadsheet entry errors, advertising copy typos, trade show delivery snafus, personnel political dramas, wonky code. A tide of mundane swelling, ebbing, a trail of inconsequential debris in its wake.

De la Louisianne in NYC

De la Louisianne in NYC

On my hilltop perch, swirling a wine so leggy it leapt from the glass, I toasted to achieving my childhood fantasy: fabulous city, fabulous career, fabulous friends, hosting parties in a fabulous (albeit rental) home with a fabulous view. I was twenty seven years old, the age my father retired from Major League Baseball.

I groped for bigger dreams.

Startling, to wonder if I had reached the limits of my imagination at the precise moment an avalanche of tech innovation was clear-cutting historical assumptions, proving perceived limits merely a human mental construct.

Instinct insisted there was more, beyond, but I lacked language for the longing.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 8.52.17 AMHow appropriate to contemplate such a layered word in such a historically layered city, and that the piece required additional work somewhere beyond.  The initial notes for this story scribbled in the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel — reputably the birthplace of this notoriously storied cocktail — in the French Quarter, New Orleans. I began writing this piece fueled by chicory coffee at PJ’s, also in the French Quarter, steps away from St. Patrick’s cathedral. The sacred and the profane occupying the same space in this town, New Orleans it’s own special universe. Editing took place with a De la Louisane at bespoke cocktail haven Attaboy on the Lower East Side, Manhattan. 

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absquatulate.

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Coined in the 1830’s — a period of great vigor and U.S. territory expansion (Westward, Ho!) that gave birth to an era of fanciful wordplay — “absquatulate” means “to flee abruptly; abscond”

Word Credit to Dave Levy:  Brass Master. Traveling Troubadour. Genre Buster. Check out his Bombrasstico sound stylings here.

tinybite&bev

house-made Huertas Vermut, on tap at Huertas

—  jam somePS2, order pizza, just chill —

but, impromptu studio kegger, as a freelancer angling to retain go-to status not to mention the looming Darla-departure rent issue, he had to seize the schmooze opportunity, a couple-three drinks before the call came — actual call, unknown number, answered on reflex —

now, jonesing for a smoke, ass telltale tingly against unforgiving chair, hospital a reminder of his uninsured status, vigil for the DreamGirl scored while riding the wave of his breakup with the one he followed to this city as her Big Break morphed into Big Important Career, as opposed to his, fine, whatever, yes, he makes cartoons, VHX, but clients pay big bucks for what he does, even if few dollars trickle into his actual pocket now, prospects are stellar, the studios provide a steady drip of caffeine, Cliff Bars, beer and even Darla bragged about his television spots, back when everyone watched television, and his career does not require “investment pieces” — a friggin’ handbag should not cost more than a laptop, an observation that did not go over well in the Serious Talk About Our Future —

Cafe Americano at Hotel Americano

Cafe Americano at Hotel Americano

hell, he conquers the latest software, another digital tool crops up, becomes new-new standard, so how can anyone plan for The Future when some kid somewhere is inventing it, but Darla wanted, wants, an Invested Partner —a fantasy, simultaneous shared feelings, the emotional equivalent of mutual orgasm —

so, jabs, tears, Ultimate Ultimatum(s), still, her departure a shock, bomb-shelled apartment, remaining naked Ikea furniture echoing like accusations, and in the midst of the maelstrom, flirtation with DreamGirl, first eyed without much hope during the fractured months between the breaking and the breakup, his pickup so smooth — except for the tussle over condoms, years since those were part of the equation and crap wasn’t that weird, the feel —

then, one night burned into a week, melted into more, new body to explore, his jokes landing in her laughter, punch lines delivered to adoring eyes, and while he is savvy enough to refrain from status update boasts, Darla intuits, launching text bombs that escalate into screeching late night calls, SHE LEFT HIM, but the responsibility does not end, the debate rages on, mea culpas ad infinitum, and now this, in-flesh fantasy requiring real-world attention — minor accident, emergency room, overnight observation —

Delectable nibble at Huertas

sea-inspired pinxto at Huertas

now, mottled face he does not recognize, he avoids her eyes, eyes shaded with need, softened by opiates, he pats her knee, hopes it is a safe spot, he can detail every physical inch of her yet this body is alien, exposed flesh like bruised fruit, she shudders, he starts, disoriented, he equates this movement with her delirious desire for him, his throat constricts — just has to stay until the roommate arrives —

relief, roommate, clucking, cooing, accepting departure excuses, weeping ice packs, instructions, a better caretaker than he will ever be, he pushes a wayward tendril behind DreamGirl’s ear, pauses at a fresh, gaudy mark on her collarbone, a hickey, or a scrape, kisses below the bruise on her cheek — GoodGuy duty fulfilled —

YES, bounds down steps, high-fives a streetlamp, sparks a smoke, inhales — air brisk,stars bright, phone silenced —

he is free.

huertasbite

Under the influence of the definition of “absquatulate”, I scribbled this story while indulging in Basque tapas — ideal dining for folks on the fly — at East Village hotspot  Huertas (I recommend the house-made Vermouth on tap, paired with any bite featuring Boquerones or Morcilla) and hand-edited while sipping a Cafe Americano at  Hotel Americano in the Chelsea Gallery District. 

Do you have a comment or an idea to share? Click “comment” link at top of story (if you are on a laptop) or scroll down (if you’re mobile).

Do you have a word for WordBowl? Click here. I look forward to writing a story inspired by your word!

curmudgeon.

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curmudgeon

Bad tempered or surly person.

“curmudgeon” brought to us by someone who is neither. Our thanks to Miss Chris, marketing maven, mom to Betty Dog, possessor of a wicked wit. Miss Chris has, on an occasion, been known to make a sardonic quip. Or two.

Tipsy Snacks

Tipsy Snacks

“Tomorrow will be better!” proclaimed the poster hung between pockmarked bulletin boards on the wall of our senior year AP English class, pith-helmeted cartoon explorer hacking his way through a crudely illustrated jungle, disproportionate hand raise in optimistic, premature triumph.

The poster annoyed me as much as the class.

She was a scab, our Senior Year AP English teacher, crossed picket lines to protect her pension, grumbled the strike would prevent us all from graduating, berated those of us demonstrating with the teachers’ union, but her real offense was rendering literature dull.

After the prior year’s heady classes with Mrs. Rodgers, who introduced literature with ferocious passion, inflamed debate, butted heads with principals and school boards to defend our right to read The Catcher in the Rye, Mrs. _________ paled in comparison on better days, droned beyond dull for most.

"Secret" Garden

“Secret” Garden

Our final year as high school students coincided with her last year as a high school English teacher. A toss-up as to which party was more anxious for May.

Teetering on the edge of irrelevance, she taught from behind her desk, avoided our eyes as much as we did hers. Having just been inducted into the secret society of symbolism, handed the keys to unlocking allusion, challenged to excavate layers of meaning, we now found ourselves returned to prosaic ground. We discussed syntax, or plot. We meandered in a literary land bereft of magic.

My papers — accustomed to ebullient teacher comments in purple pen — were returned with red circles denoting grammar infractions, or simply a grade.

There were times I sensed a sly humor behind that poster, but a glance at her sagging mouth disabused me of any such notion. I caught myself sighing in unison with her. “Tomorrow will be better!”

That poster exhausted me.

Thematic wallpaper at Tipsy Parson

Thematic wallpaper and classic cocktails  at Tipsy Parson

One particular morning, after a late night because a gang of fraternity guys barreled in moments from closing and ordered everything on our fast food menu so we had to re-start the fryer and re-clean the burger slide and re-fill ketchup bottles, after getting home to find Baby Brother “forgot” to make next-day lunches for the younger kids, after jamming through another English paper until the wee hours, an extra-early morning as I was designated carpool driver only to arrive at each pick-up to discover they decided to take their own car and “forgot” to call me, after a McDonald’s drive-thru Diet Coke and a furious cigarette for breakfast, followed by a queasy First Period Trigonometry class during which the teacher’s three-blackboards-full proof proved incorrect and she stood stupefied until the bell rang, after a frustrated conference with my guidance counselor advocating for Ivy Leagues as though my parents could afford or would allow, after walking by a knot of  whispering girls convinced their wrathful eyes were directed at me, I sat in that non-class, stared at that stupid poster, chewed the top of my Bic pen to plastic mush, drew heavy cross-hatched lines in my notebook until the paper tore, and wrote my first (only) poem:

 

view from garden perch

view from garden perch

Tomorrow Will Be Better

so they say.

The Good Old Days are far behind.

It makes one tired to think

that today was once tomorrow

which will, of course,

become

The Best of Times.

 

Winding my way downtown from Javits Convention Center — site of a jam-packed Book Expo America — I found myself wandering by Chelsea hotspot Tipsy Parson  and thought writing “curmudgeon” with an Old Fashioned was a tasty idea.. Tipsy Parson also serves some snackalicious treats (I recommend the Deviled Eggs and for the dietary-restricted, their Vegan/GF Biscuit with Bacon-Maple Jam). If I had been truly thematic this week, would have edited at Cafe Grumpy a few blocks over, but the weather was too delicious to resist writing in one of the “secret” East Village Community Gardens. 

Do you have a favorite word? A special word? A superlative word? Add YOUR word to WordBowl by clicking HERE or filling in the form below. I look forward to writing a story inspired by your word!

straw.

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Our Word of the (Memorial) Day courtesy of Peter Black 

Writer. YouTuber. Poet. 

strawdef

Initial STRAW thoughts (with almond latte)

We reside in dwellings built to withstand the elements, the many guises of the Big Bad Wolf. Whatever the exterior materials — brick, stone, wood, thatch — we craft our personal homes out of possessions purchased expressly for, or carted from previous homesteads in hopes our past will puzzle-piece into our present. We stuff our places with stuff, we recycle, we acquire more, we Spring Clean, we donate, we pack away, we store in closets, garages, attics.

In more extreme moments, watershed moments, we move stuff into storage, pay rent for our stuff to remain incarcerated in buildings constructed solely for the purpose of housing the undesirable, the excess. The unmanageable, managed.

A whole economy of storage. Off-site. Out of sight. Out of mind.

Editing STRAW while sipping a beverage through one

Editing STRAW while sipping a beverage through one

The things we cannot let go of but cannot live with, the mental images of which contract or expand in proportion to emotional associations with the raison d’etre — downsizing, travel, divorce, relocation, death — and your present circumstances. Whether your life today is better or worse than the one you pack away.

You assure yourself it is only temporary. “Temporary” drags into “interim solution”, lags there. You wax philosophical on the nature of ownership. You recall with fondness, or you mourn, the life you had, the times when you and your stuff lived together in harmony, before the discord, before the circumstances, before this, before now.

Just essentials: classic Moleskine, Manhattan

Just essentials: classic Moleskine, Manhattan

You exchange vows with yourself to lead a more simple life, pare down to the essentials.

Despite these intentions, you accumulate more, new trappings devoid of old memories. Necessary stuff, at the point of purchase, the stuff you need just shy of the stuff on hand. This new, virgin stuff is defiled by guilt, becomes simply another thing you have.

You flirt with thoughts of destruction, the stuff slate wiped clean, a fresh stuff start, before a natural disaster occurs — hurricane, tornado, flood — and you panic, desperate to hold on to the physical pieces of your former self. Your personal effects will not be swept away by circumstances beyond your control, you alone will determine their fate.

A major milestone, an urge to purge, some external event spurs you to rip open boxes, burrow into crushed newspaper — How will we pack up our lives when paper is extinct? Will there be an app for that? — unearth once-vital kitchen gadgets, obsolete electronics and their snaking cords, stacks of holiday photo cards with their ghosts of kids Christmases past hallmarking progression towards awkward adolescence when the documentation ceases. A letter, handwritten, smudged, perhaps the last you received, a token of a bygone era, a sender otherwise unremembered.

striking stuff

striking stuff at Rosella

Fewer opportunities to browse through, stumble upon memories as ever more stuff is uploaded to “the cloud” — a wispy metaphor, prone to huffs and puffs — a new storage economy, a new set of fees to release you from responsibility for the stuff formerly held in or on paper, albums, disks, tapes. You collect new stuff to fill the empty shelves.

Physical totems, substantiations of memory. Weighty as memory. Experiences, tastes, aspirations made manifest. Our stuff, our selves.

 

“straw” was built with the assistance of a creamy Counter Culture Almond Latte amongst the indoor foliage at Rosella coffee shop (lower east side), a Classic Manhattan (and a trio of the happiest Happy Hour raw oysters in town) at Black Crescent just a block or so south (lower east side) and edited with a refreshing Reyezuelo at The Wren (bowery). Apparently straw stories require a bevy of beverages. 

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pleroma.

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A fitting word for this Passover-Easter season, gifted to us by Susan Mesinai, a woman of many lives, many descriptions. I’ll choose one:  WordWarrior.

pleroma

On the muddled side of woozy — smoke, shots, bombastic bass — in one of the interchangeable blues-cum-rock dives populating the street demarcating the division between Chicago proper and my college town, propped against a wall teeming with St. Pauli Girl posters, I found myself next to the recently-graduated object of many a campus crush — hooded eyes, European motorcycle, suggestive mouth — wondering whether or not one of us had said something, if one of us was waiting for a response.

DANDY RIOT cocktail at  Library Bar/Public Theatre.

Library Bar/Public Theatre, writing

Time stretched. I struggled to make the most of this momentous moment, glean some secreted advance knowledge of the post-collegiate real world. Our silence — an eternity, a second — begged for filling. I asked the only question that crawled, clawed through my brain.

“So,” swig, gulp, “What’s life like after college?”

He nodded, resigned to such questions from those left behind, shrugged a leather jacketed shoulder, leaned down, his lips barely a whisper from my ear, and said, “You can read whatever you want.”

I reeled, spun through the crowd, burst through the exit. Gasped.

In the long slog through college prerequisites, lugging textbooks  from class to library — fortress resembling a concrete Battlestar Gallactica — required reading voluminous, Sisyphean stabs at memorization, books became synonymous with desultory study groups, read-for-grade, all-nighters. Syllabi left no room for serendipity, magic, reading absent agenda.

Tantalizing, titillating, readwhateveryouwant.

imagesChildhood, first encounters with block letters, more combination permutations than Legos. My mother and her coterie of sisters (teachers all) taught me to read as a reward for good behavior — picking up toys, proper potty pooping — WORDS! Once I mastered the basics, I had no use for adults. I dragged Let’s Pretend, my favorite book of fairytales, by a corner like a security blanket, utter faith it held the answers to every question I lacked language to ask.

Later, discovery of our small town public library, a building more ancient than Great Aunt Myrtle, dust motes dancing in mottled shafts of light like tipsy Tinkerbelles, a hall of books as hushed as Sacred Heart Church, patrons as reverent as parishioners. Rows of books, a cornucopia of sizes and spines, encased in protective plastic, free. FREE. Mine for the taking, albeit with the responsibility to return, but as the oldest of five children I was accustomed to sharing, well-indoctrinated in the fluidity of ownership.

Books — unlike movies, television, hemlines — unregulated by my Catholic parents otherwise diligent in safeguarding their first child’s soul. Unsupervised access. I took full advantage.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library, ascending

The grade school librarian graduated me to S.E. Hinton and Judy Blume, those first illuminators of the mysterious places between childhood and adulthood. I grew giddy with secret knowledge. I kept quiet. I read promiscuously.

Today, the totality of recorded human expression is at our literal fingertips. But a Google search lacks the transformative power of, say, the old Chicago Public Library, chiseled quotes from great authors extending heavenward, an ascension of words. Or a first pilgrimage to the New York Public Library, lions every bit as majestic and alive as picture book illustrations, the building an agnostic mosque, temple, cathedral. As if simply seeking were a quest worthy of grandeur.

 

“Pleroma” written with a DANDY RIOT cocktail at the Library Bar inside the Public Theater (the temptation to “riot” in a “library” too delicious to resist) and edited, of course, in the main branch of our New York Public Library.

Have a word to toss into the WordBowl lottery? Click HERE.

 

deserve.

Today’s WordBowl Word-of-the-Day “deserve” — a loaded word — courtesy of Tom Richter. Consummate host. Mad Scientist. Founder, Formulist & Chief Bottle Washer of  Tomr’s Tonic 

Image

FabulousJustFabulous! Exaggeration, wielded with almost-sincerity, sales-tress stretching and tucking jacket, blouse. Her reflection is significantly more fabulous than when she strode in, sharp leather taming her bulging hips — ample evidence she is not appropriately stress-starving her way to achieving the hollowed cheekbones of the few women at the executive level above hers — plunging neckline a distraction from the eye bags scientists have yet to formulate a product to eradicate.

cocktail concoction at Rotissere Georgette

cocktail concoction at Rotissere Georgette

The image in the mirror does not look like the sort of woman who tolerates ineptitude in others, certainly not the sort who is viewed as the go-to fixer of shitstorms created by bungling departments not reporting to her and yet, client-facing, ultimately her responsibility. This woman, the one in the mirror, refrains from re-checking the oh-so-not-on-sale price tags, draws a credit card, cocks it towards the sales-tress. Banishes guilt. Swaggers out, swinging boutique shopping bags stuffed with vestiges of the day, the conservative corporate uniform shed. She is obviously too fabulous to head home to her overly-appointed kitchen. The latest hotspot is tucked down an alley a mere few blocks away. She has earned the right to be waited upon.

DiningAlone? Solicitous, wielded almost without judgment, maitre de steering her to a barstool as sleek as her new ensemble. Bartender boasts of his martini prowess, she appreciates the professional flirtation, speed of alcohol-to-glass, more. The first icy sip slicks down her throat, rekindles the fire in her belly. The fire that propelled her to the just-shy-of-lofty professional pinnacle on which she perches, still, despite the maneuvering of would-be peers to knock her down a peg or two.

Rose Room, New York Public Library

Rose Room, New York Public Library

A wicked, leggy Bordeaux —off-menu, special — appears to accompany her frites, another with the truffle gnocchi. Double-carbs, but what the hell, tonight is for treats, tomorrow for repercussions both career and caloric, and she is much, much better, body full, head light. She monitors e.mail chains — technoslave, bound by phone — but refrains from responding. She should signal for the check. Bartender introduces the younger guy two seats down, refills her glass with a practiced wink. BanterBanterBanter. All that is waiting for her is an aborted home improvement project inspired by an in-flight magazine article and a draft of tomorrow’s largely pointless presentation trumpeting “insights” into nascent markets already en route to irrelevance.  Here, in this getup, she is a woman worthy of attention.

A nitecap — OneMore! — a final toast.

In heels not completely cooperative with cobblestones she mince-marches down the alleyway, resisting the urge to toss her former clothes, and with them, the person she is everyday, stumbles forward — pushed? — lurches back — embraced? — shoulder wrenched, jacket jerked, purse ripped away, bags flung, clothes spiraling, phone skidding, knees scraping, ears roaring. Shouting. She is hunched, all fours, palms ground-gritted.

AreYouOkay?WhichWayDidHeGo? Too fast, it happened too fast. Despite the armor she wears she is weak — worse, stupid — vulnerable in ways she will not acknowledge. Out too late. A drink too far. Gentrifying neighborhood. Flashy clothes. She knows better. Ingrained from adolescence: Don’tWalkAloneAtNight.

Single woman.

Target.

Bulls Eye.

Hello, Birch Coffee

Hello, Birch Coffee

 

“deserve” was a demanding piece, handwritten first with a mint-festooned Green Chartreuse and Amaro Averna cocktail concoction at Rotisserie Georgette (midtown east), second pass drafted with a bitter-strong Americano at Birch Coffee (nomad) and edited underneath the towering windows and soaring ceilings of the Rose Room at the New York Public Library (bryant park).

What word strikes you? I look forward to writing a story inspired by it (use form below)! 

flagellate.

This Ash Wednesday WordBowl Word of the Day — FLAGELLATE —  courtesy L. Fragner.                Who simply defies description. 

Moscow Mule at Moscow 57

Moscow Mule at Moscow 57

You dwell in the Land of If.

If only I had picked-up-the-phone divined-the-signs responded-to-the-message left-earlier left-later never-left tried-better demanded-more shouted-less fought-harder fought-smarter found-the-right-words said-the-right-thing. Loved greater.  

 Maybe if I…

In the Land of If, you wade along the Shore of Should, where verb tenses collide, what you should have done, what protocols demand you should do now.

You cannot remember what came before, the life you so assumptively lived. Sound and air distort, as if you are underwater, suspended, people darting in and out, circling around as you hold your breath. Breathing, laborious, an exacting effort, complex orchestration of organs, body parts, diaphragm, ribs, chest, lungs, esophagus, lips.

Lips with which you once kissed, once reveled in kisses, once tipped your fingers to, remembering, the touchstone of that first kiss, before kisses bruised, tasted of futility, failure.

MoscowLights

Moscow Lights

You are careful whom you tell, you take care in the telling, but this news slips from your control, gushes like gossip. People leave messages, send digital missives, tasteful cards. You respond so as not to incur more guilt for being unresponsive. They are kind. They say hello, head tilted, extra syllables. They ask, how are you, voices lowering, eyes sliding away, because while this is a normal greeting, these are not normal times, how are you an actual question, a loaded invitation.

Perhaps you told too many people. Perhaps your colleagues wish they could just ask you for the report or update you on the latest developments without first inquiring, gently, how are you?

Rhetorical questions, rhetorical answers. No point in going into detail. You are toxic, you should secret yourself away from the true friends and good people with enviable lives and secure spouses and aspirational children, in order to ensure you do not infect the unafflicted.

Cobbling together scribbles from two notebooks at Why Not?

Cobbling together scribbles from two notebooks at Why Not?

They say, feel your feelings. You do not feel, not the expected feelings, so you fail at this, too.

You distrust the pills handed to you to induce sleep or anesthetize your basic chemistry. You turn to your steady friend, booze, but there is not enough alcohol in all the world to drown out the noise in your head.

Still, solo, you find yourself having a drink in unfamiliar places where you will not be recognized. A stranger asks, how are you, their eyes bright with desire to tell you their stories, stories sheened by years of practice. They look directly at you but they do not see you for what you are, an open wound, crying to be cauterized. You tell yourself that is why you are here, just another anonymous barfly.

You long for pain, corporeal pain, to pierce the numb. A single searing pain to lacerate the dense nothingness pressing from all sides. Simple pain. Graspable pain. Understandable pain. Pain with precedent. A physical sting so sharp you have no choice but to respond, Pavlovian. Pain that only marks your skin. Pain you can move through and past, to a place where pain is just a memory.

Staring up to the ceiling at Why Not?

Ceiling view, Why Not?

“flagellate” handwritten on a bitter Sunday evening at the newly opened cocktail-dining-live music destination Moscow 57 (the only Moscow-meets-New Orleans spot in NYC) and edited on an equally bitter morning at the newly opened Lower East Side outpost of the warmly welcoming Why Not? Coffee & Wine (can vouch for the coffee, have yet to indulge in the wine)

Have a word you’d like to toss into the WordBowl lottery? Use the form below: